The technical guide to trouser cuffs

Today I thought I’d say a few words about turn-ups, or cuffs. As in, what do we do about trousers that are too long for our legs and have no tools at to hand. If you stopped to ask your mother, she’d tell you to get them hemmed. Hemming is the proper way to deal with excess length, just cut to size and make a new seam at the bottom. That will make your trousers fit nice and proper, and show that someone cares about you.

As a general rule, I would normally hem chinos, corduroys and similar, reserving cuffs for mainly denim. Two reasons for this: For denim it has a visual function that is lacking in other fabrics, and secondly because unless you have the appropriate machine for hemming thick denim it can be a bit of a bastard to do properly. Light fabrics are easy enough to fold and sew, but once you’re into thick denim you need the skill, the heavy duty machine, and you’ll probably be wanting a chain-stitch as well. Quality denim shops such as Rivet & Hide usually provide a hemming service.

Steve-Mcqueen-cuff_denim

Mr Rugged Icon himself, Steve McQueen, sporting some cheeky, narrow cuffs on his jeans.

 

We’re not really there though. And while we will shun the attentions of a seamstress (or even operate a sewing machine ourself, and trust me, it’s not that difficult), we will also shun the ghetto-style hemming by way of using a stapler, double-sided tape, or even just folding the excess up on the inside and taking care not to walk too heavily. Of course, if we’re talking non-denim trousers all of these variants would be more than useful at a pinch, so you might want to quickly note down “stapler, double-sided tape, sneaky fold up the inside”. And onwards we go, to the reason for making the perfect cuff!

Photo 15.03.15, 15.34.17

A 36″ trouser leg. Enough for another half a leg!

For reasons that can be a little difficult, or even embarrassing, to explain to your partner (or your mother), hemming doesn’t really work for those of us that have paid good money for a pair of expensive jeans. You want that selvedge to show, as a sort of secret signal to other menswear nerds, and as much as it pains me to say it, cuffs are a part of that denim style. Not that I adhere strictly to all accepted aspects of denim style, as I feel I go a bit against the general feeling by actually preferring my jeans to have a nice, dense indigo colour. I’m not fussed about developing lots of fades or personality, and definitely not rips, cuts and tears. Once my jeans get close to that point they’re more suited for gardening than daily wear.

Possibly a statement non-cuff? (From the recent "Denim Dudes" book)

Possibly a statement non-cuff? (From the recent “Denim Dudes” book)

So, the science of the cuff, what may that consist of? Like origami it all comes down to folding and where the folds are made. Unlike origami it’s really dead simple. The goal is to reduce the length of the trouser leg from whatever silly length it currently to whatever length your actual leg is. My inseam measurement is 30.5″ and if I’m given the option of having my trousers hemmed I will have them shortened to 32″. That gives me a single fold of just over an inch, which works well for me. If you have long legs you can make wider cuffs work, but if you’re a guy with short legs it does you no favours at all to have your cuff reaching halfway to your knees. As a general rule of thumb I recommend keeping the cuffs between 1 and 2 inches (i.e. 2.54 to 5.08cm).

Photo 18.03.15, 13.01.07

A single cuff on these 19oz Livid jeans.

With trousers coming in varying lengths though I have 3 different variants of cuff I use, and really they are just ways of folding a trouser leg to the correct length through multiples of folds. As mentioned above the Single Fold Cuff is perfect for cases where the excess length is between 1 and 2 inches. One fold and you’re ready.

Photo 18.03.15, 13.07.34

A double cuff on these 14oz Steel Feathers.

For the slightly longer trouser leg, where the excess is between 2 and 4 inches I tend to go for the Rolled Double Cuff. This is is where you first fold a little less than half the excess, then fold it again, so the original hem is hidden inside the rolled cuff. This actually looks neater than a single fold, at least to my eyes.

Photo 18.03.15, 12.57.08

A double fold, or Tender Special Cuff, on these 17oz Tenders.

For the really long trouser leg, typically where trousers only come in a 36″ length and you have almost 6″ of expensive denim to spare, you make one single fold and ride that hem right under your knee! Surely not, no, that would make you look like you were 4 years old and had borrowed your lanky brothers trousers after an unfortunate playground incident. No, for the really massive excess you have to go a little origami on it, even having to think it through a little. What you want to achieve here is first a big fold, and then refold that fold again to create a Double Fold Cuff, or a Tender Special Cuff as I’ve seen it called. The trick here is to get the width right on the first fold and then fold the second one up so it’s just under the original hem. A little practice may be required.

A very nice cuff (again from "Denim Dudes")

A very nice cuff (again from “Denim Dudes”)

So that makes 1, 2 and 4 folds. No 3 folded one? I guess you could do a reduced Double Fold, where the original hem ends up at the bottom, but that would sort of defeat the purpose. I think the three variants outlined will cover all usual cases.

Photo 18.03.15, 16.12.58

For me this is a double fail. The cuff is useless and the length is too long. (Again, from “Denim Dudes”)

 

One issue not mentioned is the issue of where you set your datum line, or in trouser terms, where do you want your trousers to end. This is not usually an issue, unless you are wearing footwear you want to show off a bit. Wearing a nice pair of boots there is no reason not to sneak that hem just a little higher than usual, though, be sensible. You’ve seen photos of beardy young hipsters “rocking” their skinny jeans, rolled up to show off their new Red Wings, right? Be very careful.

steve-mcqueen-denim

Another Steve McQueen cuff, this time just a single fold.

There is one burning question that can be debated though: Is it acceptable to use an iron to really sharpen and define the cuffs? A quick dab of hot steam, just to put a little edge on it, to make it last a bit better? Even if no one sees it, and you never tell anyone? Let me know what you think, ok?

And in closing, if there is one massive disadvantage of cuffs over having your trousers hemmed to a length that means they just hang straight, it is that you tend to gather no end of debris between those cotton folds. Quite disgustingly so. Even if you’re keeping it strictly real in an urban landscape. The trials we endure, eh?

Nice, crisp cuff, but way to wide for my taste (And, yes, it's another "Denim Dude"!)

Nice, crisp cuff, but way to wide for my taste. With the possible exception for a wearer that is impossibly tall and skinny. (And, yes, it’s another “Denim Dude”!)

 

Oh, a final final question, or even a quiz if you like. Given all the above, and all that we otherwise know, what is glaringly wrong in the photo below?

horrible cuffs on nasty jeans

8 Responses to “The technical guide to trouser cuffs”

  1. Brandon

    Another great article, WDD. I apologize for not getting back to you in time for this post but you have covered things very well! I would add that with the Tender cuff, apart from being great for really long jeans like you said, is also for showing off roping on a chainstitched hem where any other cuff would hide it. That being said, my 1.7 year old Left Field Greasers have wear in many places but not the hem, which makes me wonder – does cuffing prevent or delay wear to the hem? Seems like a sensible conclusion. Do you have any roping going on in any of your jeans?

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      To be honest, I’ve not really noticed, but I tend to think that for roping to appear there has to be some abrasion going on, and having the hem flying high and dry on a cuff must surely protect it quite a bit? Just had a look at my most obvious candidates, a pair of 21oz Iron Hearts, and the cuff on those is a double roll, so the actual hem is extremely well protected and totally pristine!

      Reply
  2. Richard D Trenholm (@rich_trenholm)

    Here’s a question: I like the selvedge turn-up two-tone look, but I only wear black jeans. I have once owned a pair of black jeans that had the two-tone effect (inside lighter than the outside, therefore giving a lighter turn-up), but I’ve struggled to find that again – what should I be looking for?

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      I had a pair of great sulphur-dyed black Iron Heart jeans. Not that common though, I’d try Rivet & Hide, Union Clothing or possibly Son of a stag. Black denim is underestimated!

      Reply
  3. Andrew Halliday

    Another great article but Nick let us hear you opinion on jean width v shoe/boot style. I struggle to find the correct combo for a wider jean. I have a great pair of Camper faux brogue boots but am finding it hard to seek out a replacement pair of these great lightweight boots.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Thanks, Andrew. I am very firm when it comes to the width of jeans legs. They should be on the narrow side of straight, nothing even remotely flared. This means that no boot-cut or wider legs will find a place in my collection, regardless of what I intend to wear them with. Even “straight leg” may be too wide, and it’s hard to find any that are too tight! If you see the photos above, the Livids are the ones that fit tightest on my leg, and I’ll even wear those with 8″ Red Wing boots.

      I’ll see if I can’t come up with an angle for a fuller post, but really the main point I’m making with regards to a wider jean is: No, thanks!

      Reply
  4. Scratch

    I absolutely disagree with that. I like a wider legged jean – I’m not talking about flares or boot cut rubbish – but a wider legged straight jean, or one with a vague taper.
    I find really skinny fit jeans sometimes look a bit girlish and the slimmest fit jeans I own are Lee 101Z’s.
    The Iron Heart 634 straight leg is perhaps the ideal cut for me however I also love the older LVC jeans – cinch back with brace buttons and totally not skinny.
    Mine get a lot of wear, they are pretty straight but generous in the leg which is a big contrast to what you see everyone else wearing and that’s something I quite enjoy.

    A lot of shoes go with them well – a pair of christy soled Red Wing Work Oxfords for example look really crisp with a wider hem, as do RedWing Super Soles imo.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      I’m not sure exactly what you are disagreeing with, but you do have those slender long legs that allow for greater width of leg. Guys with short legs and wide jeans tend to take on the look of a teapot, i.e. short and stout. I agree skinny fit jeans are wrong and effeminate on men. Only young men can wear the skinny jeans, and they will look like right ninnies to us older chaps, even though to their peers they appear to be at the pinnacle of hip.

      Reply

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